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Cambridge Rugby Shield


Apr 17

Plymouth Preview

It seems to be only only a blink of an eye since the season started with a hopeful trip to Devon, but somehow it is the end of the season and this Saturday we welcome Plymouth Albion to Volac Park.

There has been a settlement by the River Plym since the Bronze age - though the main settlement was inland at Plymton until the channel silted up and the centre of trade moved to the village - then called Sutton - where the river opens into the Sound, hence Plymouth - though the Sutton name lives on in the Parliamentary constituency.

Plymouth has a namesake in Massachusetts at the heart of the colony founded by English puritans fleeing control from James I and VI. James had charted two companies to settle America, the London and Plymouth companies. The London company's settlement at Jamestown survived - albeit after starvation - while the Plymouth Company's settlement at Popham Maine had disbanded after a year, even though only one colonist had died and they built the ship they sailed home on.

The Puritans therefore headed for territory granted to the defunct Plymouth Company to avoid Royal control. They had set out from Rotherhide in the Mayflower and Speedwell and called at Deftshaven in the Netherlands but was forced to head back to Plymouth the Speedwell sprang a leak and proved incapable of making the Atlantic crossing. The Puritans were forced to sell the Speedwell and continue with just one ship. They came to suspect that the Speedwell's master had deliberately caused the leaks for fear of starvation in the New World.

William and Mary commissioned a new Dockyard on the banks of the Tamar. Originally known as Plymouth Docks, it became known as Devonport.

Do not confuse the Royal Naval Dockyard Devonport with Devonport Naval Base, that is half a world away in Auckland New Zealand. My grandfather actually served in both, being sent South as part of the effort to improve the Auckland base ready for the coming war before it was handed over to the newly separate New Zealand Navy in 1941. He and his family then returned home on a convoy risking attack from U-boats to continue the war effort at home. He continued working in the dockyards until he retired in the 1960s.

George II added a Naval Hospital just up the river at East Stonehouse and William IV a victualling yard.

By the nineteenth century the three settlements were known collectively as the Three Towns but it was not until 1914 that they were merged into the City of Plymouth.

Plymouth Albion is another merger. The original Plymouth club adopted professional code in 1912 when the Northern Union were attempting to form a South Western franchise. Those who wanted to continue the XV man game merged with Devonport Albion and moved to Beacon Park - their home until 2003 when they moved to the Brickfields. This is the first time we have played Plymouth at home in the league. They had been at Level 2 from 2002 until 2015 but financial troubles led to relegation and administration.

So come along and cheer the boys on one last time this season - and possibly stay and buy them a drink or two after the match.

Apr 17

Ampthill Away Preview

This Saturday the Blood and Sand make the short journey to Ampthill for their penultimate match of the season.

Ampthill is a small market town in Bedfordshire. Ampthill has a medieval castle. It was built by Sir John Cornwall. He married the daughter of John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster - who in Shakespeare makes the "This Sceptred Isle" speech. Sir John fought with Richard II in Scotland, with his father-in-law in Brittany, with Henry IV against Owen Glyndwr and with Henry V at Harfleur - "once more into the breach dear friends" and Agincourt. Indeed it was the ransoms he earned there that paid for the castle.

As the family we allied to the House of Lancaster, it is unsurprising that later the Tudors' were frequent visitors, and Katherine of Aragon made the castle her home for the last two years of her marriage to Henry VIII. In the 18th Century the MP for Bedfordshire was John FitzPatrick, although he was an Irish peer, the Earl of Upper Ossory, this did not give him a place in the English House of Lords. He oversaw the final demolition of the castle and the improvement of the town - including the erection of a cross commemorating Katherine with an inscription by Robert Walpole. He also had an affair with the wife of the Prime Minister Henry Fitzroy Duke of Grafton - who was also Chancellor of he University and after whom the street and shopping centre are named - the resulting scandal being a factor in Grafton's resignation as Prime Minister.

In the 1970s Kit Williams chose the memorial as the site at which he buried a golden hare. Clues to its location were contained in the book Masquerade. The book which sold in the hundreds of thousands contained fifteen pictures. Each picture contained clues to a word and these words should lead you to Ampthill. For three years nobody could work out the riddle. Eventually one team did correctly solve the riddle but although they dug up the box containing the hare - failed to spot it was significant and reburied it. Though they did send a full description of their working to Williams, but before it arrived Kit Williams had received a sketch of the location from another contestant and confirmed it was correct, even though there was no indication that this was any more than a lucky guess. This contestant then discovered the hare with the aid of a metal detector. However, a further scandal ensued when it came to light that the winner was in fact working with the new partner of Kit Williams ex-girlfriend who may have been aware of the rough location of the burial - though she has denied this.

Ampthill Rugby have a small but pleasant clubhouse overlooking a number of pitches - but poor drainage meant the 1st XV pitch was often waterlogged. Therefore a few years ago they acquired an extra field on slightly higher land. So now the players and supporters make the short walk through the woods up to the new field.

Ampthill are a bogey team for Cambridge, this is our fourth league encounter and we are yet to record a win. On Cambridge's only other visit, in 2014, Mike Ayrton scored Cambridge's only try. He for one will not underestimate the difficulty of the challenge.

With both sides knowing they are safe in National One for next season, there is nothing but pride at stake. However, players are looking to stake a claim for contracts for next season, so the game will not be anything other than fully committed.

Make the short drive and support the Blood and Sand.

Mar 17

Hull Ionians preview

This Saturday the Blood and Sand travel to the East Riding to take on Hull Ionians.

Ionians are based in the village of Brantinghan a few miles West of Hull itself. The local lords of the manor, the De Brantinghan family were at the peak of their power in the 14th century under Edward III, Ralph was the King''s Chamberlain and Thomas the Lord Chamberlain. But there was also scandal. Thomas's brother William was found to have used chicaneries to assign the estates of his dead ward to his benefit, by persuading a woman to personate his ward's sister, claiming to be recently returned from the Holy Land. Another family member Simon was appointed steward to the hospital of St John in Dorchester - but instead of running it for charity he sold off not just the land but even the linens and bedding. Although members of the family continued to hold religious offices, they never reach the same level of prominence and the disappear into poverty by Tudor times.

The nearest railway station is Brough two miles away. Unfortunately while the Hull trains run into King's Cross the first stop on the journey North is Grantham making the train impractical. Fortunately the road journey is much simpler, with the ground just beyond the Eastern end of the M62.

Brough's main claim to fame was the arrest in 1738 of one John Palmer, apparently a butcher from Long Sutton, for shooting a fellow resident's fighting cock. The magistrate felt Mr Palmer's lifestyle - he had been hunting and drinking with the local gentry - was well beyond his means and suspected illegal activities, possibly horse theft. This itself was a capital offence and he was taken to York Castle. While in custody he wrote a letter to his brother-in-law in Essex. In the days before the Penny Post, the recipient had to pay for the letter and he refused to pay. While the letter sat at Saffron Walden Post Office, a local teacher recognised the handwriting as that of his former pupil Dick Turpin - who was wanted for highway robbery and murder with a reward of 200 guineas put up by the Duke of Newcastle.

Turpin's life of crime seems to have begun by butchering stolen deer in Essex. He was sucked into the gang's activities moved on to robbing houses and then highway robbery - often with violence. As the authorities closed in arresting his accomplices, Dick escaped ]on several occasions. On the run in Epping Forest in 1737, he shot Thomas Morris a servant to one of the Forest Keepers, who had discovered his hiding place. Dick escaped again, reappearing as Palmer in Brough.

Despite his previous attempt to escape, Turpin put up no resistance when captured in Brough or when transferred to York. Once identified there was some dispute over where he should be tried, York, London or Essex. In the end he was tried in York, found guilty and sentenced to hang at the Knavesmire - now the site of York racetrack.

Hull Ionians are in a relegation scrap with Blaydon. Cambridge know a victory at Hull will see us safe - but with the hosts playing for their lives they cannot make assumptions, Hull Ionians are just two points behind Blaydon. The most likely outcome is one of the two will be relegated alongside Macclesfield. By a quirk of fate in the final run of games Ampthill, ourselves, Rosslyn Park and Old Albanians all play Blaydon the game after they play Hull Ionians.

If you cannot make it to Hull, the 2nds are due to play Bishop Stortford 2 at home. The Hertfordshire club currently head National 2 South and have always had a strong second side - so expect a tough game.

Mar 17

Coventry Preview

This Saturday the Blood and Sand welcome Rowland Winter's Coventry.

Coventry has long been the leading market town in the West Midlands. The original Saxon Nunnery was destroyed by King Canute and rebuilt by Earl Loefric and Lady Godiva.

The symbol of the town - and of Coventry Rugby - is the Elephant and Castle. In the case of the rugby club it stands on a rugby ball bearing the date of the club's foundation 1874.

In Christian tradition the Elephant is the only beast capable of slaying a dragon.

The city is associated with the two dragon slaying saints, St Michael and St George. Local legend is that Coventry is the birthplace of St George - even though he is generally believed to have been a Roman soldier of Syrian descent - and St George's day is celebrated with pageants and parades.

Coventry Cathedral is dedicated to St Michael another dragon slayer. The Epstein statue on the wall of the new cathedral shows the Archangel's other victory - throwing Satan from heaven. Yet another myth has it that Satan landed in a bramble patch and relieved himself on the berries. Which is why one should not eat blackberries after Michaelmas.

In medieval tale, the elephant was said to sleep standing up against a tree. Hunters came and cut down the tree, thinking the elephant would not be able to get up. However, a young elephant calf came and pulled the old elephant to its feet using its trunk. So the old elephant, so strong it can carry a fortress on its back, is redeemed by a child. Thus making it a symbol for man's redemption by Christ.

Coventry are in sixth place having won their last three games, including a good win over Ampthill. However, they did lose at Fylde at the start of February so they can be beaten. Rowland has assembled a side that includes a number of ex-Cambridge players, including James Stokes, Brett Daynes, Corey Hircock and Tom Wheatcroft so they will know their way round the Volac Park pitch.

In the encounter at Butts Park earlier this season saw the hosts register a big win 55-12. Cambridge will need to be on the top of their game. Support from the crowd does lift the team, so do come and add your voice to the roar and give the old boys the welcome they deserve.

Mar 17

Fylde Away Preview

This Saturday the Blood and Sand head to Lancashire to play Fylde.

On the 15th of December 1830, the High Sheriff of Lancashire attended the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway. On the death of his brother Peter Hesketh had inherited the family estate and adopted the name of his ancestors the Fleetwoods. He realised the railway could not only carry freight, but would be able to take the mill workers on day trips. He therefore decided to set up a holiday resort on the Lancashire coast and link it to the mill towns by railway. His first efforts were at Southport where he already owned much of the land. But after initial success he decided that he could set up a whole new town on the Fylde coast at the mouth of the Wyre. He called the new resort Fleetwood and linked it to the mills with the Preston and Wyre railway. In 1846 a branch line was opened to Blackpool - which at the time had a population of a few hundred. Blackpool soon eclipsed Fleetwood - and Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood died if not in penury in much reduced circumstances.

Lytham had been a seaside resort for many years, relying on the coaching trade. The Lord of the Manor, the Cliftons had improved the road and financed a stage coach service to Lytham and Blackpool. But the presence of the new railway line running through Lytham to Blackpool South encouraged another entrepreneur Elijah Hargreaves to create a new resort in 1874 based round the chapel of St Annes which had be built the year before to serve a fishing hamlet. The Cliftons leased him the land - though they retained the right to hunt game for the 999 year term. As the resorts grew, While Blackpool was brash, Lytham and St Anne's were genteel. Lytham and St Annes merged into a single town Lytham-St Annes, there is much debate over the apostrophe. It is home of golf clubs rather than kiss me quick hats.

In 1919 a group of businessmen set up a sporting club in the town and on the spin of a coin they chose rugby over soccer. They chose the colours of Huddersfield Old Boys, though the reason why has been lost. Fylde still wear the colours. The clubs heyday was in the 1980, when Bill Beaumont, Brain Ashton and Roger Uttley played for club and country. In the professional era the club slipped from the top flight to level 4, regaining level 3 in 2011. There is still a railway station next to the Fylde ground, but unfortunately due to engineering works trains will be replaced by buses this weekend.

Fylde sit one place and four points ahead of Cambridge. If Cambridge can find their mojo again they could leap frog Esher - who play Rosslyn Park on Friday night - and Fylde. On the other hand another poor performance would see us slp back towards Hull Ionians and Blaydon and the relegation places.

When Fylde came to Cambridge we won 36-0 with tries from Lawrence Hutchinson, Ean Griffiths, Louis Rawlings and James Ayrton and a perfect defence. Fylde lost their last game at Ampthill, but had won the previous three against Blaydon, Hull Ionians and Coventry.


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